Monday, April 11, 2016


20. PRINCETON, (pt. B)
Funny thing was, about all that
time in Princeton, I gave it my all,
my very most, but was given very
little back. I guess I took more than
I got, because each day of any of
the trips there was great for me. In
order to avoid, eventually, the
annoyance of having to speak with
people, mingle and chat, I took
earlier and earlier trains, working
down from like a 7:24am train
to, eventually, the 5:07 I wrote of.
That was a ghost train, compared to
any of the others, which would fill up
with regular and serious commuters.
Which I disdained. And besides,
really, when you come right down
to it, I disliked people. I'd take
comfort in all the seasons of the
year, occasionally filming the
sunrises and varied early morning
things I'd run across. The constant
clamor of the always-on workmen,
arriving early for any one of the
hundred contractor jobs underway
across campus. The Prospect Garden
area, with its metal seats and tables,
I'd sit facing east, as the light came
up, reading or writing after getting
an early coffee. Near to two early
hours of a nice, solitary nothing each
day. Up Witherspoon, at Small World
Cafe, I'd take an early seat, as they
opened at 6 or half-past (there were
two, with different opening hours).
Those early train rides I'd mentioned,
there'd occasionally be some drama.
Oftentimes drunks with problems.
First train back to Trenton, or New
Brunswick, the endless ghettos of
third world reprieve. Same bunch
who serviced the Princeton bowels,
service people, scrubbers and the rest.
But the Mexicans they'd get drunk with
just a stupor. Dazed and faraway, a
smile maybe. Occasionally, there'd
be some regular, American white-boy
delinquent types  -  the kind I'd know
anywhere, from Avenel  -  who get
on the train glaringly drunk, foul and
obscene, and usually dragging along
with them some skanked-up female
version of the same. Everyone just
ignored what they could  -  sleepers,
stinkers and their stenches, all. The
morning after a parade day, say, like
St. Patricks's Day or something, was
the worst. One time a few were on,
from NYC, and just as the train was
leaving Metuchen, the ambient noise
began getting out of order, started
sounding strange, then louder,
then a brawl broke out. Two guys,
friends I guess, drunk each, started
quite simply beating the shit out of
each other, their girlfriends or
whatever screaming, lunging in,
then  out, screaming again, 'Stop
them!! Stop them!! He's crazy'.
He'll kill him!' - all that. No one
really made a move; perhaps the
idea was thought about, I know
I did, but my conclusion was,
'Let him.' Teeth by this time were
flying. Liquid streams of blood,
in ways I'd never seen, seemed
suspended in the air. I was about
12 seats off, and just stayed there,
hoping maybe they'd both be 30
seconds from unconscious right
then and it would end itself and
serve them right. And their skank
women. Anyway, two conductors
showed up, just watched them go
at it, slightly slower by the second.
The train stopped at the next station,
two cops boarded, and that was it.
Quite a morning's bowl of cereal.
The train travel, over time, became
a joy of sorts. As the train wended
its way along, towards Princeton
Junction, I'd be familiar with the
locations, as it shifted, of the sunrise,
and the varied time frames for
sunrise reference of the seasons and
the clocks too. Darkness, light.
Passing the Mobil Refinery in
Edison, I'd be familiar with the
freight tracks they had, of their
own, coming out into the broader,
main tracks, and I'd see chemical
and tanker cars moving in or out.
I'd get to see the workers, milling
about, looking up. Lanterns. People
walking. Stumped-up piles of trackside
tree limbs, the occasional sad transfer
of wild or farmed fields into horrid
rows of homes or condos. The
backsides of everything, as seen
from the rolling train. I became
quite familiar with rhythms and the
feel of train travel, a uniquely old,
yet annoyingly contemporary format.
Consciousness of things didn't take 
too much; you had to concentrate 
and be sure of what you wanted, 
but all this train travel on these 
old back-lanes where the tracks 
were in place had been fairly 
unchanged since the 1930's. 
The trains themselves had been 
altered, all that speed and the 
newer Amtrak trains taking 
precedence and zooming by. 
The old fields and the backwoods, 
where they still stood, were marshy 
and dank, with twisted and dead 
trees. Here and there was a small 
hill, with quad tracks and things 
kids rode their trail bikes. The
rear and storage yards of small 
companies, box and panels trucks,
cast-off signage, old layers of pipe and 
lumber, dirt and grass. Everywhere
was the haphazard overgrowth of
neglect, and these trains just rolled
by it all, day in and day out. You get,
or at least I did, a certain feel for the
America of backyards and things
worn-down, from viewing out train
windows. I fully expected, any day,
to see a 1930's housewife, in her old,
blowing-around house dress, hanging
laundry in the wind. I could see anything
I chose to  -  I saw dinosaurs plodding
through the marshy muck, their ancient
screams and screeches waking the world.
Indians from the sidings stalked and stared.
Old men, tinkering with square, metal cars,
as they wore hats and goggles and trundled 
back into their wicked contraption to putter
of along the dirt road  -  that road, still there, 
ran forgotten and abandoned, nearly from 
South Brunswick clear to Princeton Junction, 
with but a few old farm-homes still left in 
place, useless, but there nonetheless.
Everything before me was both unreal and 
real, and just as much real as unreal.
And you wonder why I didn't wish to talk?
It's all a wonder of the moment, that
screen upon which we view the world.
There was, each day, each morning,as
the train neared, very close, to the
Princeton Junction stop, a small clump
of small buildings. They'd somehow, 
incredibly after all these years, stayed
on. There was an upholstery shops,
Ed's Upholstery, or Andrews's, or
something, and a Chinese restaurant
nearby it, with some small, intervening
buildings. Strangle laid out, sort of 
all at an angle to the tracks, almost 
facing them, sideways. As if they'd 
made a peace, long ago , with the 
intrusion of the railroad. Always
curious about this, one day I drove
down there, to see it for myself,
from the other angle, the road-side.
I found it, it was apparently what
once had been a little village of its 
own, maybe just as or before the 
rail-tracks arrived long ago, 
whenever. The place struggled on  
-  some houses, remnants  of farm 
and field, grain store and mill.
What was left was what was left  -  
having, yes, long ago, made 
peace with the intrusion of the
railroad, just hung on. How like
people it all was, I thought
to myself.

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